Student spotlight: Innocent Tshilombo


Innocent N. Tshlombo, the recipient of one of our scholarships and currently enrolled in our MAS in Humanitarian Action, is a humanitarian professional working in the Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he has been living in Kenya since 2009, when he had to leave his country and become a refugee. Innocent tells us about his background and plans for the future.

Can you tell us more about your background? What did you study?

I am an impact entrepreneur and a professional in humanitarian operations and live in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. For seven years, I have managed logistics and supply chain working for the International Rescue Committee to support health and nutrition programmes in Kakuma. I have also coordinated operations of the blended higher education programme in the campe offered by the University of Geneva InZone project. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of the People and a diploma in Liberal Studies from Regis University. I am a fellow at the Young African Leadership Initiative East Africa and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ReAct programme in Data, Economics, Development and Policy. I am also a holder of a diploma in industrial electrical engineering and a certificate in Information Communication Technology from Tunapanda Institute. I am currently an Executive Master’s student at the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, a joint center of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute.

In which circumstances did you become a refugee?

I first arrived in Kenya in 2009 when I fled my home country following targeted violence aimed at my family. I was in my second year at the Goma Polytechnique Institute in Congo pursuing my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Since then, I have never been able to return home.

Could you tell us more about your involvement with InZone?

I joined InZone, a University of Geneva project, when the organisation was transitioning from training humanitarian interpreters to higher education in Emergencies. At that earlier stage, I became a member of the management team in charge of operations, innovation, and infrastructure development. The InZone model is to deliver a blended higher education programme to refugees (online and in-person) with accreditation from the University of Geneva. In my roles, I have led the testing of a proof of concepts on connectivity and technology in low-resource places and I have realized the conception and development of a new learning space with a modern facility for learning and research.

InZone Learning Hub in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.

What made you choose the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies for your Executive Master? is there a specific area of studies that you are interested in?

My involvement in the humanitarian sector has been the result of my humanitarian circumstance and placement opportunities that allowed me to practice as a humanitarian professional without prior experience or specific training in the sector. My choice to join the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies was motivated by my need to academically validate my years of experience in the humanitarian sector and work on my areas of improvement to redefine my career pathway in the humanitarian sector. My area of focus is on the self-reliance of forced migrants affected by protracted conflict as myself.

How do you intend to use what you will learn during this year at the Centre? Which plans do you have after the Master?

I think the knowledge I am gaining from the Centre will enhance my skills and strengthen my abilitiy to add value to my future organization, role, or initiative in the humanitarian sector. After the Master’s programme, I plan to work with international organisations to continue serving people in need and focusing on my research areas to address the knowledge gap and influence policy in the humanitarian sector.

Which advice would you give to other refugees interested in pursuing their studies?

I understand first-hand how hard it is when a person find themselves in a hard situation such as becoming a refugee. The future quickly becomes blurry making impossible to manage the trade-off between short-term and long-term aspirations. Refugees, however, should not let their status define who they are or what they can achieve. They should stay motivated and hold firm on their aspirations to pursue their studies to change their narrative and be agents of positive change.

In most contexts refugees are tolerated rather than accepted. They are forced to focus on basic needs rather than reflecting on how to rebuild their future. I encourage all those who are affected by forced migration to fast-track their transition from distress to engaging their listening audience and integrate where they are accepted. I’d also like to add a message to the international community: please promote acceptance rather than tolerance of refugees and give them a platform from which they can rebuild their future and become active members of society.